Prepare for your first salary negotiation

Can I negotiate my salary as a new graduate? What's my labour worth? How do I prepare for a talk about my salary? Experience shows that there's plenty of room for negotiation - you just have to get out of your comfort zone.

Job seeker
It's quite normal to have a lot of questions relating to salary negotiation.

New to the labour market

As a newcomer to the labour market, it’s quite normal to have a lot of questions relating to salary negotiation. Below we’ll answer some of the questions that many new graduates have before their first salary negotiation.


Why should I negotiate my salary as a new graduate?

Negotiating your salary as a new graduate can be daunting. But your first salary negotiation is very important. It sets the course of your salary for the rest of your career. In our experience, having to negotiate a significant increase in your salary later on at an annual salary negotiation is difficult, unless you move up the career ladder or change your job. Legal adviser at IDA, Kamilla Mortensen, says:

“We hear from many new graduates that they’re often just happy and proud to get their first job, and rightly so. But you shouldn’t let your enthusiasm negatively affect your first salary and terms and conditions in general. We also hear that some new graduates think it’s difficult to ask for a proper salary because they’re afraid to come across as demanding, but there’s no reason to feel this way.”

Being prepared for a salary talk shows that you have the courage to negotiate, have opinions and that you stand up for yourself. These are usually valued competences in any employee.

“And it’s important to remember that you will not get the salary you deserve but the salary you negotiate. The employer may have an interest in getting your labour as cheaply as possible, but this isn’t necessarily an indication of what the employer is willing to pay. The employer also has an interest in landing at the right level to prevent you from leaving again because the salary is too low,” says Kamilla Mortensen.

Moreover, a salary negotiation can also be a good exercise in communicating your competences and qualifications, and in making yourself visible. This will not be the last time you negotiate your salary. So, the sooner you get to practice the better.


Video: 5 tips for your first salary negotiation

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How do I find out what my labour is worth?

The basis for a successful salary negotiation is first and foremost that you have researched salary levels before the salary negotiation, and that you know your value on the labour market.

Use the IDA salary calculator to see the salary levels of others with similar profiles. Furthermore, it’s worth finding out the average salary increases for new graduates – those can be found in the IDA salary statistics. You can also call Kamilla Mortensen and IDA’s other legal advisers, who will help you prepare for your first salary negotiation.


Video: How do you determine your market value?

When do I present my proposal for my salary?

There are no fixed rules for when you can talk salary during the recruitment process. It can be at the first interview, the second interview or perhaps even when you receive the contract. However, regardless of when it’s brought up, it’s important that you can give a qualified answer and justify your proposal.

Initial salary graph divided into private sector and public sector. The first graph is divided into three based on field of study. The second is based on all IDA members working in the public sector.

So, be prepared with a figure already at the first interview. It would be very unfortunate to begin a salary negotiation without being prepared and risking proposing something that is either way too low or way too high. Trying to fix it later would just be awkward and unnecessary.

If you’re at your 1st or 2nd interview, the employer will typically ask about your expectations. We recommend that you answer and make your proposal, and not just pass the ball back to the employer right away.


How do I present my proposed salary?

If you get the opportunity to make the first move, you’ll get a reference point in the negotiation. It can be important to take the lead in the negotiation. It’s also more fun if the employer has to spend time negotiating your proposal down rather than you having to work hard to get the employer to raise your salary.

“When you present your proposal, it’s important that you also show that you’re open and ready to negotiate. You can do this by using phrases such as “I had imagined…” or “Looking at the content of the job, I would say….”.

“After you’ve presented your proposal, it’s a good idea to send the ball back to the employer, e.g. by using the phrase: “but of course I’m also very excited to hear what you had in mind”. Otherwise, you’ll risk the employer just writing something down and leaving you with a feeling of unease because you don’t know whether your proposal matches the employer’s expectations at all. If you know what the employer thinks, it’ll make the salary negotiation much easier for you,” says Kamilla Mortensen.

Of course, in some situations the employer will just tell you what they can offer. But just because the employer presents you with a salary, it doesn’t mean that you can’t try to negotiate anyway. You just need to take charge fast and ask whether there’s room for negotiation.

“If the figure from the employer is very low, you can say that “it’s a little lower than what you had in mind. I was thinking xx, so perhaps it’s possible to negotiate or talk a little more about it?” says Kamilla Mortensen.

Another possibility is that you don’t get to talk about salary during the interviews, and you’re not presented with the salary until you receive the contract. At this stage, it’s still possible to try to negotiate. In this situation, the recommendation is that you either call or write to the employer and thank them for the contract, while at the same time indicating that you would like to talk about the salary, if possible.

Remember there aren’t any rules for when to negotiate salary in the recruitment process. The most important thing is that you’re prepared for the different situations.

Hold your horses!

Do you know what you’re signing? When the job search has paid off, and you’re about to sign a contract, you need to keep your cool.

We know that it can feel like it’s NOW or never, but it’s not. If the company has decided to offer you the job, you can safely accept the job and tell them that you’d like to discuss your contract with IDA before you sign it.

This is a completely normal procedure and employers are used to this – although they rarely mention it to you. At IDA, we often experience that new graduates don’t come to us to discuss their contract until after they’ve signed it. That’s too late – or at least it makes it very difficult – to contest a low initial salary or to negotiate better terms and conditions for you.


Video: Employment contract

We can help you

Come to us before you sign the contract.

IDA’s legal advisers will ensure that your contract meets current legislation, and by keeping your cool, you can also compare your salary with our salary calculator and see what others in similar positions make. It’s frustrating to find out afterwards that you’ve started on a low salary, and the disappointment can be difficult to get over, even though you like your job.

Send us your contract, and let us help you.

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